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It’s not why, it’s how. Practical steps to achieving diversity in your workforce


It’s good news that the needle has moved in the conversation about diversity in the workforce. The importance and benefits of having a diverse team and an inclusive environment are well documented, the data around the topic is clear, and the positive impacts to the financial results of any business have been demonstrated. Unlike in the past, we don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about why workforce diversity should be encouraged and achieved.

That said, there’s a lot more that needs to be done to realise workforce diversity on the ground, so I would like to share some practical steps and observations about how to achieve it. At Silicon Valley Bank, we have our own procedures in place to facilitate diversity, but we are also in a position to share observations across our client base, which consists of innovation businesses of all life stages, as well as VC and PE funds.  Here, I can share with you practical steps that we are seeing, as well as what we are doing, to accelerate positive change on this topic.

Start early

Don’t wait to tackle diversity issues within your company or fund as they will only get more complex. Each week it feels like our team is meeting with an entrepreneur starting their journey. Building a diverse team and embedding good practices and the right culture from day one helps enable and encourage diversity moving forwards. This need is amplified for VC funds, of which I know of no less than six new ones being raised right now. Creating a diverse partnership is critical as it’s very hard to change partnerships after formation. Additionally, I believe this will also have a direct positive correlation in increasing the number of female and minority-led businesses attracting VC.

Hiring tips

We have observed clients reviewing their job descriptions and interview questions and techniques, an exercise we have also undertaken. At SVB, we set clear expectations with our internal and external recruiters as to what we want to see in terms of a diverse pool or candidates, and have utilised software to create gender-neutral and inclusive job specs. In the last nine months or so we’ve seen a 10% increase in CVs from female and BAME individuals.

Measuring and metrics

On the subject of statistics, it’s important to measure data and progress at every stage of employee lifecycle management. I am a firm believer that you will only see results and change on things that are measured. We include a number of diversity metrics in the EMEA business in our management committee packs. We’ve also seen clients tracking diversity goals within their businesses and measuring data in their board packs. This is an easy call to arms and something it would be good to make into an industry standard.

Refresh training, mentoring and sponsorship programmes

Assess whether the diversity and inclusion elements of your training and onboarding processes could be improved. SVB holds management and individual training sessions on unconscious bias, effective interviewing techniques, and precisely what we mean around creating an inclusive environment. We have also observed clients actively coaching their teams on diversity topics. Look at refreshing or re-energising your mentoring and sponsorship programmes, and assess if your strategy is working across your whole employee lifecycle.

Communicate – internally and externally

Talk openly within your business about diversity issues and practices and encourage this discussion and debate externally, too.  With a topic this important you can’t sit on the side-lines. Some of our clients actively encourage their employees to participate in industry events and be a part of that dialogue. We believe it’s critical that we as an institution are part of these conversations. SVB partners with some fantastic UK and global organisations addressing D&I within the sector, including Diversity VC and Paradigm for Parity in the UK and All Raise and Watermark Conference for Women in the US, and we’d encourage you to do the same.

We also leverage SVB data and insights from our client base to amplify and put some facts around the issue of diversity. Our 2018 Startup Outlook survey revealed that over 40% of respondents had implemented programmes internally to increase the number of women in leadership positions – a 25% increase from 2017. We just launched the 2019 survey so I am hopeful we will see further progress in those results, too.

You can take part in our 2019 Startup Outlook Survey via the following link.